Everything was already here; I was only looking for the fateful hour when the first sentence would be pieced together: man, whichever door he opens, wherever he goes, even if he’s pinned down to a chair, inevitably stumbled upon the past. And I, a writer who slept for some years in hibernation, stopped at the gate through which one exits one’s youth, now I sense the secret of poetry, and its beginning, in vain. I intend to search for invisible landscapes. He who speaks about himself should not keep silent about anything. If I bite my tongue somewhere, if I skip a detail, it won’t be to spare myself, somewhere we have to turn away from the truth, because the truth is like a well – someone drinks cold water and invigorates the soul, someone else plunges there and meets death. Everything that begins inevitably tends towards where it began. When I finish this story, I will find out why I wrote it down.
The world has aged, the hour is approaching when it will subside. Everything in the world has aged: grass, people, and volcanoes. Eggs, too, have aged. Fathers have aged, and the fruits of the fathers are aging. The stories about them and about us are growing old. My youth has grown old, my father’s youth has grown old too. He had long escaped what cannot be escaped. I write about him cautiously, as if I’m looking for him, because they were looking for him cautiously. I write about what others have seen the way they have seen it; I also write about what others have heard, talked about and added to. Their truth will be my truth about my father. Their lie will be my lie too. No, I’m not claiming anything! I write the way I think it could or should have been. I will not defend him, because I cannot defend him; and there are many who have suffered from his hand.
Father. He was unimportant in this world until the search for him began. He was wanted by bipeds: gendarmes and informants. He was wanted by quadrupeds: horses and search dogs. He was wanted by the authorities: the police and the army. He was wanted by the law. He was wanted by the cold; cold pipes watched him. He was wanted by the heat: bullets rushed towards him and the hot curses of mourning mothers and widows reached him. They were looking for him… They were looking for him for forty-seven days…
Here, in the Home for Persons with Special Needs, where I have been working lately, I run around – it is not difficult for me. I came here, got the job the way I got it; my neighbour – a famous gambler who gave himself the name Clerk, skinned the director in a game of cards. When the director no longer had anything to put on the table, he thought of offering a job that cost seven thousand euros. Clerk got the job through gambling, and he could have sold it to anyone, but I ran into him – I had returned from Despotovac. I had no idea I was going to get a job. Clerk, a gambler with a strange soul, did not tell me – go to work, because you are an orphan, without anyone anywhere. No. Clerk said: Go to work, to the Home… Your father, Numan Numić, was brave, I knew him, so here, let me do something for you. Go and work.
Of course, I know that my father was no hero, although many call him that – no; he rebelled, hid for 47 days and nights, and those 47 days and nights still peek into my days and nights.
There, as someone’s son, as a gambler’s neighbour, I came to this Home, to the smell of macaroni, sweat, unwashed pots and plates, to screams; I came to the third floor, walked past the kitchen, the billiard room and the chess room, found the administration, reported to the director.
Yes, you are the one… What school do you have?
Stuttering, I said, I finished the Technical High School in Despotovac. I received my diploma in the mail. I planned to go to university, but this opportunity came up.
Great. You work from today, bring that diploma tomorrow. Congratulations.
You should know, work is a privilege. Start working, stabilize, and then you can study besides being employed, later, slowly… You see that half the people are out of work. Everyone went to the West, people went away, just to survive. They bent their spines for a stinging bite. You should take this chance.
Whhhhat will I be doing?
Look – said the director and from that day on he didn’t even allow me to ask much, he tried harder to talk so as not to listen to me. We have servers. These are women who serve food to occupants. But it’s good to have a male servers as well. It is better to say male server, than just a server. You lower the tray, tell them to eat; you come back later and take the dishes, take them to the kitchen to have them washed… Help everyone. Whatever doctors, nurses, technicians, physiotherapists say – listen… Simply, you are young, be of service to everyone. Even if someone sends you for cigarettes, run, listen to him; by the way, you know, smoking is forbidden in any room; those who smoke, let him do it on the terrace.
I didn’t even try to tell him, I don’t smoke. I asked a question. Issss the wwork hhhard?
Listen! How can it be difficult? Some occupants are difficult. The paraplegics are on the ground floor. On the first and second floors are psychiatric patients and alcoholics. Here on the third floor, next to the administration is the canteen, the billiard and table football room, chessboards… on the fourth and fifth floors are the elderly – because this was supposed to be a home for the elderly, and on the sixth floor are various: abandoned cases, people who have forgotten who and what they are. There are some who, perhaps, are hiding their identity, some who lost their mind in the wars and were found terrified, without memory… There are patients here who have visited a dozen hospitals, were treated everywhere, and were sent to us, to wither here. There’s misfortune in many rooms, but for you it is important that you have a good and easy job.
Ddddirector, wwwhat is the best ttthing I can ddddo?
For occupants and patients? Ignore them. Most of them are here because their families pay just not to watch them in their homes. And some have been here for twenty years. We don’t know who they are or what they are, they don’t have any papers, we don’t even know their names… we are waiting for them to die; if we were not afraid of God, we would kick them, but I don’t know where to throw them. To whom? This is the last address for many.
Wwwo’s my boss?
They’re all your bosses. Whoever tells you something, you listen to them. Don’t be late for work. You will work shifts, just like the others. Each floor has thirty rooms. On the ground floor there are rooms from 1 to 30. The first floor, from 101 to 130, and so on, to the sixth floor where the rooms are from 601 to 630. Here, on the third floor, the rooms are not numbered. You’ll learn everything easily. Go to the head nurse, she will give you the assignments, the floors you need to keep… And enjoy! And what did you say your name was?
Semir Numić… Nice name! And your father was the famous Numan Numić? That’s what Clerk told me, if he’s not lying.